If you’ve ever watched surfers—as I did last week in Los Angeles—you noticed they paddle around more than they actually surf. They scan the horizon and duck under broken waves as they wait their turn.
Watching three surfers hang loose off of Venice Beach made me realize that mindfulness is like surfing.
On the occasional day when I feel particularly mindful, thoughts pass by wave after wave, but I don’t feel an urge to ride them. I sense a little more choice over which thoughts to follow, which stories and assumptions about my experience to indulge.
Before I meditate in the morning, I have what feels like zero choice. I’m a fumbling mess. I try—unconsciously; out of habit—to catch every wave (thought), broken or not. I’m anxious, clumsy, cranky, and bothered by everything.
My mind is how it used to be most of the time before I started meditating: whipped about in every direction and dragged on the sharp, rocky, painful ocean floor of life.
“It is very rare to find a human being today,” says the British-Australian Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm. “They are always going somewhere, hardly ever being here. That is why I call them ‘human goings’.”
After meditation, my thoughts aren’t all exciting and positive, and they don’t stop going, but I’m a halfway decent surfer.
Meditation is practicing surfing in the most “perfect” conditions. It’s a light offshore wind, plenty of groundswells, and a tidal push. It’s a quiet, safe place with no distractions other than thoughts, sounds, and bodily sensations.
It’s a rare opportunity to watch your mind try to catch every wave, let go, and choose to duck or ride.
On my best days, I don’t even judge myself for the waves (thoughts). Why should I judge myself? I don’t make the waves.
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